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Cases withdrawn against Estrada may be revived

Aniano Desierto
Desierto says the government may refile withdrawn criminal cases against Estrada  

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Detention venue

Worried about witnesses

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MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine government may refile five of eight criminal cases against ousted president Joseph Estrada, a possibility not brought up when they were withdrawn Tuesday.

The country's top prosecutor Aniano Desierto announced the withdrawal of the five cases Tuesday, saying that the government would focus on the plunder case.

But he told CNN Wednesday that the government still has the option to revive the cases.

"When the plunder case will have proceeded on course and we are already beyond the period of arraignment, then we can always refile those cases we have withdrawn," Desierto said.

"The plunder case is the center of all these cases, the most important that this country has ever filed in court in this century."

Estrada lawyer Cleofe Verzola contends, however, that Desierto withdrew the cases because of a lack of evidence.

Desierto denied having committed a legal blunder in withdrawing the four graft cases, and a fifth that he allegedly violated the government code of conduct.

According to Verzola, their move to file before the Sandiganbayan on Monday a motion to "throw back" all the cases against Estrada "frightened" Desierto into withdrawing them.

"In the first place, it was irresponsible of him to file the cases without sufficient proof," Verzola said.

Detention venue

Desierto also disclosed that a venue was being prepared for Estrada's impending arrest on the plunder charge, saying three detention centers "have been improved for that purpose."

Otherwise, Estrada would be placed in the "usual places of custody," if the Sandiganbayan so decides.

Verzola expressed optimism that a legal technicality would prevent the Sandiganbayan from issuing an arrest warrant on the plunder charge and remand the cases to the ombudsman's office.

"Estrada was denied a preliminary investigation," Verzola stressed.

Desierto admitted he would have no choice if the Sandiganbayan decided to remand the cases to his office.

"If that is the order of the Sandiganbayan, we will have to comply with it," he said.

"But a reinvestigation will only be done on grounds stated by law," Desierto said, maintaining that Estrada lawyers have no grounds to justify its move.

"The Sandiganbayan has to determine whether there is proper ground like new evidence ... or there (are) errors of law or irregularities."

Worried about witnesses

Desierto maintains that the withdrawal of the five cases "in the meantime" would allow a trial on the plunder case to proceed smoothly.

Since the court did not consolidate the eight original cases under one division of the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court, the state's witnesses "will be spread out in many divisions (of the court)."

"Our witnesses will be mostly identical in the different cases," Desierto said.

"We cannot now proceed in the day-to-day trial, in the plunder trial, because they might be called upon to testify in another division."

Five divisions of the Sandiganbayan were originally tasked to handle the cases, with the third division handling the plunder case.

Desierto added that the withdrawal of the cases was a way of preempting Estrada lawyers who would try to delay trial proceedings by "claiming that we had filed charges which are identical to each other."

"We are ready with the evidence ... in fact the evidence is overwhelming," Desierto said.

The two charges of perjury and illegal use of an alias will not be withdrawn "because they are not directly related with the plunder case."

Estrada is set to be called to trial on the two cases on May 17.

The perjury charge involves Estrada's allegedly deliberate misstatement of his assets and liabilities.

He also allegedly used the alias "Jose Velarde" to maintain bank accounts, a charge that surfaced during his impeachment trial.

The Senate tribunal's decision to reject bank evidence linking Estrada to the alias and thus to millions of dollars in ill-acquired wealth led to massive protests in January.

The protests quickly escalated and within four days cabinet and key military and police officials abandoned Estrada, pressuring him to step down as president on January 20.



RELATED STORIES:
Riots feared as Estrada awaits arrest
18 April 2001
Estrada to file new motion with anti-graft court
17 April 2001
Estrada arrest warrant issued
16 April 2001

RELATED SITE:
Philippine Office of the Press Secretary

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